I’m shocked to see that there is no Palin staffer taking down contact information—e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers—for the 1,000 or so fans, each one a potential fund raiser or volunteer. If Palin is considering a run for president, this is a pretty significant oversight, which makes me think she has no such intention.
Around lunchtime, Boone emerges from having her book signed and, flashing the autograph at the waiting line, declares, “She’s here!” The crowd cheers. Boone wipes tears from her eyes and steps up to a radio reporter’s microphone. “I was shaking,” Boone says, then compares the feeling of meeting Palin to the one she got when she met Poison rock star Bret Michaels. As Boone tells it, when she stepped up to the signing area, Palin (“She’s sooo petite!”) greeted her with a firm handshake. “She stood right up and asked my name,” and when Boone told the former governor she’d been waiting since the night before, Palin exclaimed, “Oh, you have! Oh, I’m so happy to meet you!” Seconds later, the meeting was over, but Boone says it “made my year.”
I’m thinking about getting a copy of the book signed for myself. The press hasn’t been allowed anywhere near Palin today other than for a minute when the bookstore door cracked open to let Boone in, so getting close would be a coup. Plus, my aunt back in Clyde, California, a Palin fan, would be excited to have it. I nab a ticket but am so busy interviewing people and tweeting photos that I keep letting others jump ahead of me. Finally, there’s no one left, and I reach the head of the line. What the hell, I think. Palin and I had been in the same room only once before, back when she was still governor and Obama had just won the presidency. But my Palin moment evaporates as an aide takes my book and hands me one that’s been presigned. Still, I tell Palin my name, and she reaches out. Her grip is strong, and I am impressed with her eye contact. Then she’s on to the next buyer. I’m annoyed at myself because I didn’t blurt out a question, even though I know it’s not the time or place.
A month later, in mid-December, I call veteran conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly to ask for her perspective. “2010 was the real year of the woman, the conservative woman, the pro-life woman,” she says. “These women had a big impact in the November elections. When you taste victory like that, you want to stick with it. They will play a big role in 2012.” She surprises me by comparing today’s Mama Grizzlies to other female revolutionaries. “Those women were pro-life, pro-family, and they were working for a specific goal that was good,” she says. “Suffragette women were more like the Tea Party and the anti-ERA movement.”
Some of this sounds not unlike what I hear when I call Marsha Blackburn, a Republican Congresswoman from Tennessee, who tells me her GOP colleagues know they’ll be voted out if they don’t deliver. “[Women’s] engagement is going to set the tone for much of what is going to happen in 2012,” Blackburn says. She believes she is supported by women not because she’s a Republican but because she knows “what it’s like to work all week and go home and work all weekend. My decisions will be closer to the decisions they make. [Conservative women] think, I am not going to sit still and let politicians spend away my child’s future. I am going to get up and do something about it. Women do a great job of holding people accountable.”
Blackburn and Schlafly are convinced that these women will have a real say in who gets elected in 2012. But as I end my journey, I’m not so sure. I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm and emotion, but political activism requires much more—money, time, willingness to make cold calls and ring doorbells. When I contact -Christi Becker again in March, she admits she has been too busy with her family to do much for a female candidate since we last spoke; Christine Boone says the same.